SINGAPORE - Shopping for iPhones, a businessman from Bangladesh walked into a Lucky Plaza shop, where he was told that two iPhone 5s would cost $2,550.
Mr Shaikh Bashir Ahmed Mamun paid and signed a receipt.
But the 55-year-old was soon told by the salesmen of eOne Mobile Plus that he had to hand over another $7,553 before he could have the phones.
They showed him the signed receipt. To his horror, he found he had agreed to pay $10,103 for the 32GB phones and warranty packages.
After four hours of arguing, he paid another $1,730. In all, he said, he paid $4,280 for the two phones.
The same phones, at $1,088 each, would have cost him $2,176 at the Singapore online Apple store.
Mr Mamun's encounter earlier this month adds to an uptrend in complaints against errant mobile phone retailers that consumer watchdog Case, or the Consumers Association of Singapore, has received this year.
In the first half of this year, 498 complaints were made by both tourists and residents.
Projected for the year, the figure looks set to exceed last year's 799 complaints to Case.
The numbers had been falling yearly since 2008 and had hit a low of 678 in 2010.
Complaints include overcharging and being charged for items not mentioned upfront. In some instances, old mobile phones were sold as new.
This month alone, Case received two complaints against eOne.
Websites like TripAdvisor also carry posts from travellers warning others against shopping at eOne.
In fact, the two malls that attracted the highest number of complaints of all types from shoppers are Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square.
Lucky Plaza got 52 complaints in the first 10 months of this year, up from 40 in the same period last year.
At Sim Lim Square, the corresponding figures are 82 and 73.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said more than half of the complaints against the two malls are about errant mobile phone retailers.
Mr Mamun, who was in Singapore on a four-day business trip, admitted he should have been more careful.
"It was such small writing. I couldn't even read it with my spectacles, and I was in a rush. That was my mistake," he said, of the receipt that he signed.
The father of four recalled asking for his money back and telling eOne he no longer wanted the phones when he discovered the exorbitant price.
He alleged that the salesmen refused, as the packaging had been opened and the warranties applied for. They then suggested that he pay $500 more to settle the matter, but he would not have the phones.
In the end, the police were called and an e-mail written to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
But nothing could be done. The police can only take up cases relating to criminal offences. Mr Mamun's complaint was not such a case.
"I was so angry and upset," said the businessman, who has visited Singapore four times a year for the past 20 years. "I tell my children that Singapore is a wonderful city, that there is no cheating."
When The Straits Times went to the eOne premises on Thursday, Mr Jim Neo, 31, a sales representative there, said they had moved in only three days earlier.
"I don't know what happened," he said, adding that he had nothing to do with eOne and that the signboard would be replaced soon.
But when a photograph of him was sent to Mr Mamun, Mr Neo was identified as one of the people who had sold him the phone.
When told about it, Mr Neo said eOne does not do interviews with the media.
Mr Seah, of Case, finds eOne's sales practice "unacceptable".
He told The Straits Times: "We are very concerned with the unacceptable practice of this retailer, as such trade practices will tarnish the image of Singapore as a shopping paradise.
"We would like to call on industry players, particularly those located at Lucky Plaza, to take a stronger stand against such questionable practices in their shopping mall."
He added: "Case shall work with the relevant authority to address the issue."
When contacted, Mr John Conceicao, an executive director of STB, said it took "a serious view" of errant retailers and would explore ways to target them.
Tips from Case to avoid scams
- Ask for a receipt that lists each individual purchase and make sure the bill is correct before signing it or accepting the product.
- Ask the vendor to write down the price in black and white before making payment.
- Research the gadgets that you are buying beforehand, or compare prices with similar products in other shops.
- Do not part with your money until after you confirm the price to be paid with the person you are paying. Often, errant retailers are in cahoots with each other. In Mr Shaikh Bashir Ahmed Mamun's case, he claimed a woman at another store agreed on a price with him and then took him to eOne Mobile Plus for the purchase to be processed. She then walked away. The shopkeepers at eOne insist that they did not know the woman.
This article was first published on Nov 26, 2012.
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